Monday, August 13, 2018

Matt Lavelle and Reggie Sylvester - Retrograde (ESP-Disk, 2018)

Matt Lavelle on trumpet, fluegelhorn and alto clarinet and Reggie Sylvester on drums have been active in the NYC avant garde jazz scene for years, playing in the late guitarist Bern Nix's Quartet and other groups. On this disc, they take their inspiration from the classic duo album Interstellar Space by John Coltrane and Rashied Ali. Their music explores the planets that that weren't mentioned in that album, and meditate on the message and the music of that record from the vantage point of fifty years on. This album works quite well, whether the pair are blasting through loud and powerful sections of free jazz or quieter passages of abstract improvisation. They open on "Uranus" with Sylvester keeping the rhythm opens with cymbals ebbing and flowing, and Lavelle probing at the available real estate, before diving in on trumpet, leading to a fluid and dynamic trio improvisation. The pace of the conversation gradually increases, as Lavelle is fleet and potent at speed while Sylvester both accents and accentuates the growing musical adventure. "Neptune" has bursts of powerful percussion juxtaposed by areas of mysterious quiet. Jabs of clarinet, and curls of quieter sound allow the jagged dynamism of the piece to really take hold. Branching even further out to the dwarf planet "Pluto" and moving though a spare and enigmatic improvisation that makes use of the available space with light clarinet and restrained percussion painting a deft picture. Lavelle returns to trumpet on the powerful "Mercury" with strong blasts of brass meeting equally powerful percussion creating an exciting and relentlessly cascading free improvisation. The trumpeter sits out for a very interesting drum solo that takes the track to its conclusion. Uncertainty and ambiguity is at the heart of "The Sun" with shimmering cymbals opening the way for the clarinet to enter, allowing the music to emerge in a creative evolution, with cries of reedy clarinet framed by cymbals and percussion. The finale, "Earth" is a mid-tempo duet, hanging in the air and played with mutual respect as the improvisation grows into its full flowering. It's fitting that this album is released on the ESP label, home to the early work of iconoclasts like Albert Ayler, Sonny Simmons and Frank Lowe, given the unfettered nature of the interplay between Lavelle and Slyvester. The hearken back to those heady days while remaining completely modern and as fresh as tomorrow's news. Retrograde -

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Sunday, August 12, 2018

Kenny Burrell - Five Original Albums (Blue Note, 2018)

This budget five disc collection covers some of the highlights from the early recording career of the legendary jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell. While is doesn't contain arguably Burrell's finest album, the incomparable Midnight Blue, there are five albums he recorded for Blue Note Records in the 1950's with him performing in jam sessions, studio takes and a live album for considerable variety within the Blue Note hard bop format. Opening appropriately enough with Introducing Kenny Burrell, we see the guitarist as confident and fully formed as a musician and as a quick thinking improviser, playing standards and originals with Tommy Flanagan on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums. They plow with abandon through "This Time the Dream's On Me" as Burrell demonstrates his fluid and flowing tone on the instrument. He generously sits out in his own session to allow the great Latin percussionist Candido to engage with the bebop pioneer Clarke in a drum and percussion duet called "Rhythmorama" which is a very exciting track that shows these two great musicians using their unique approaches to their instruments to create a volatile and pulsating improvisation. The self titled second album keeps the same personnel as to the first, adding a beautiful version of "Get Happy" that puts a spring in everyone's step, along with the galloping rhythm of "Cheeta." None of these albums contain any extra tracks, but the whole session that comprises the above albums and more can be found on the 2000 Blue Note double disc collection Introducing Kenny Burrell: The First Blue Note Sessions. Burrell was no stranger to the studio jam session, having taken part in many for the Prestige including the LP side long slabs "Al Day Long" and "All Night Long" so he was perfectly suited to lead a range of hard bop luminaries that would create the next two albums included here, Blue Lights Vol. One and Two. This open ended format suits the music quite well, allowing the group to use standards and blues as vehicles to explore the hard bop and soul jazz sub genres in detail, creating a wide range of solo space for the leader and sidemen like Sam Jones on bass and Art Blakey, who create a wonderful pocket for the musicians to explore, and unheralded players like the trumpeter Louis Smith and the saxophonists Tina Brooks and Junior Cook to ply their wares. As with the introductory session, these two albums are available on a double disc set that brings all the music from these sessions into a convenient package. Finally, there is a stellar live album called On View At The Five Spot, that has a primo band featuring Tina Brooks on tenor saxophone, Bobby Timmons or Roland Hanna on piano, Ben Tucker on bass and Art Blakey on drums. They tear with wonderful abandon through jazz standards like Dizzy Gillespie's "Birk's Works" and the Gershwin favorite "Lady Be Good" rounding things off with an emotionally sound version of "Lover Man." Overall, this collection presents sound value for the money, with five strong albums for the budget price. Costs had to be cut somewhere, so there are no bonus tracks and the packaging is on the flimsy side. The cover art and liner notes for each disc replicates the original LP's, however the notes are in a microscopic font. 5 Original Albums -

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Saturday, August 11, 2018

Steve Coleman and Five Elements - Live At The Village Vanguard Vol. 1 The Embedded Sets (Pi-Recordings, 2018)

The Village Vanguard in New York has been the host of some of the most momentous live jazz recordings from the likes of John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, and alto saxophonist, composer and conceptualist Steve Coleman carves his name into that legacy with this excellent live album. He is accompanied by his band featuring Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Miles Okazaki on guitar, Anthony Tidd on bass and Sean Rickman on drums. Their performance opens with "Horda (First Set)" with Coleman's saxophone heralding the music's emergence into a fast paced, rhythmically charged track. The saxophone and trumpet whirl and dive, focusing on Coleman's tart alto sound that slices through the deep bass and drum foundation. The musicians coalesce for quick bursts of collective sound before spiraling out again into a feature for trumpet as the rest of the band percolates in support. The music stretches and flexes according to need, confidently pushing their unique brand of jazz forward. There is a crisp groove to "DJW (First Set) that the musicians lock into, providing the forward thrust necessary to push the horns out over some stellar guitar, bass and drums accompaniment. The trio bubbles rapidly, engaging with the horns, as Coleman launches a tightly wound and angular solo statement, in a powerful and exciting manner. Sturdy drumming, simultaneously soloing and supporting, pushes the rhythm into deeper and more complex territory, then leading to a rapid and powerful conclusion. "TWF (First Set)" is another potent and strong performance, with the musicians playing with grace and dignity, as crisp drumming accentuates Coleman's citrus flavored alto sound. The band plays together in a very clean fashion, never getting in one another's way or stumbling despite the complexity of the music. Finlayson's trumpet feature picks up on this spark to deliver a confident and declamatory solo statement of his own before handing off to the rhythm section for a short area of tightly interwoven sound, leading to a quintet collective improvisation and closing. Saxophone probing introduces "Figit Time" before the rest of the band comes tumbling into the sound in a madcap and exciting way, blooming into a wide ranging alto saxophone feature over undulating accompaniment. The drumming is spectacular along with the taut bass, providing the needed accelerate for Coleman's fire. "RM / Figit Time" keeps this flame alive on the second set, providing a medley that stretches for over sixteen minutes, beginning with subtle percussion and trumpet, playing with patience and fluidity. The rest of the band folds in and the music begins to gain sense of forcefulness with Coleman muscling into a solo setting, demonstrating his particular skill in creating high quality music in the moment. These are just some of the highlights of a lengthy and exciting double album that captures this band at the height of their powers, playing forward thinking and emotionally resonant modern jazz to a very lucky and appreciative audience. Live At The Village Vanguard Vol. I (The Embedded Sets) -

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Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Golia / Kaiser / Moses / Smith / Walter - Astral Plane Crash (Balance Point Acoustics, 2018)

This album is an exciting and very interesting collaboration between Vinny Golia on saxophones, clarinet and flute, Henry Kaiser on guitars, Damon Smith on amplified double bass and Ra-Kalam Bob Moses and Weasel Walter on drums and percussion. (Promo video here) There are two very long tracks of inspired collective improvisation, the trio of Kaiser, Smith and Walter has played together for years, producing some excellent albums, but the addition of the west coast reedman Gloia and drummer Moses kicks this performance up to an even higher level. Golia is reminiscent of the great Sam Rivers, switching instruments in mid flight to add just the right texture to the improvisation. The opening track "Fountain of Dreams" is nearly forty five minutes in length and the epic nature of the music gives the musicians ample room to stretch out as the twin drumming unit creates deep and moving rhythms that are continuously in motion, with the bounding bass cuts through the thick sound to add additional rhythmic heft as well as an individualistic voice contributing to the collectively improvised performance. The guitar and drums alternate between skittish pointillism and snarling roar with the sound of Kaiser's electric guitar bursting out at time to spray colorful shards of sound across the musical landscape. The album's other track, the thirty five minute excursion "Mysterious Journey" lives up to its title with the opening played by delicate acoustic guitar and flute, Golia's flutes are a wonder and he incorporates a technique that uses overblowing, vocalizations and growls to create an individual and memorable sound. The music takes flight soon after with the drums gradually increasing the momentum of the performance, Golia moving to a variety of saxophones, primarily soprano and sopranino, which soar over and cut through a powerful psychedelic freakout of electric guitar and drums that sets the pace for a very impressive performance of exploratory and far reaching free improvisation. This was a very impressive album, and deserves the attention of open eared jazz fans. The group is a dynamic powerhouse that can move from a whisper to a scream and create a musical landscape that is ripe for exploration. Astral Plane Crash -

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Saturday, August 04, 2018

Otomo Yoshihide and Paal Nilssen-Love - 19th of May 2016 (PNL Records, 2018)

This is an excellent and intense duet album between Otomo Yoshihide on electric guitar and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and percussion. The music is broken up into two lengthy improvisations, "Cat" and "Dog" which give the great guitarist and drummer plenty of room to stretch out and play some extraordinary sounds that run the gamut from free jazz to post rock and industrial noise. "Cat" open with raw and scouring soundscapes, feeding back into silence and invoking quick bursts of drums. The music is purely in the moment with massive blocks of guitar crashing up against dexterous percussion, blasts of feedback is punctuated by rolled drumming, colliding as if in a particle accelerator, creating new sub-atomic particles of sound and motion. The music ebbs to an ominous quiet, with skittish percussion and ever changing tones of electric guitar. This spare section, the eye of the musical hurricane, shows that these musicians are not just out to destroy, but also to create with the utmost restraint, spare tones, chimes and rings. The speed of their interactions begins to rise despite the subtlety, soon regaining the original intensity with whip cracks of electricity meeting barreling drums, bringing the music to a concluding section of beautiful violence. "Dog" is simply over the top, ending with a squall of guitar feedback and slash and burn percussion the needs to be heard to be believed. The dynamic nature of the music is also on display throughout the performance, with the music moving from the aforementioned tempest to periods of relative calm. At one point Oshihide holds a brain scrambling tone on his guitar almost begging the question, what will happen first, will he move on after this gleeful blast of noise, or will the listener blink first and lunge for the stereo to turn down that withering burst of pure energy? Although there are solo sections on this album, it's when the two musicians are working together, completely free from any preconceptions that the music truly shines. They will push each other further on with the Oshihide's limitless technique on the electric guitar which is met by the drummer's massive and bottomless idea about the role of a percussionist. 19th of May 2016

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Friday, August 03, 2018

Grant Lee Buffalo - Mighty Joe Moon (Slash Records, 1994)

This album meant the world to me nearly twenty-five years ago. I was at SUNY Oneonta doing my level best to have a complete breakdown, flunking out spectacularly despite really loving some of my classes and professors, and having met some good and reliable friends. My diagnosis of bipolar disorder wouldn't come until many years later after I had crashed and burned from the only job I ever loved and felt like I was making a difference in. Some albums are time locked. As much as I love Bob Dylan's masterpiece Love and Theft, I will always flash back to it's release date: September 11, 2001. I had planned to get up early and go to the Borders Books and Music (remember those?) to get the new album before going to work that afternoon. Turning on the radio and then the TV that morning and watching the world crumble, people walking in shock, fighter jets screaming across the blue New Jersey skies, twelve people from my town dead.

Mighty Joe Moon brings back different memories, wandering around Oneonta, a small college town in a daze of depression and anxiety that I didn't have a name for, missing classes for no reasons, pushing my friends and family away. Walking around town listing to that album endlessly on cassette tape (remember those?) it seemed timeless, incorporating rock, folk, even gospel in its mix of lyrically resonant music, the sound of the album was purely American. "Lone Star Song" opens the album with a feint, crushing rock 'n' roll guitars feeding back and recalling Neil Young and Crazy Horse at their most unhinged. The next two songs tug in the opposite direction, with "Mockingbirds" showing the range in Grant Lee Phillips' voice as he goes into an impossibly high and delicate falsetto, while "It Is the Life" is an acoustic lament with beautiful heartfelt lyrics that pierced my lost soul like a dagger:

If the life you have created
Has buried you with luxuries out-dated
And you ask what is the purpose
Too weak to claw your way up to the surface

With no room left in that direction, they tack into the wind with the blustery electric rock song "Sing Along" which is an arena rock lighter-waver in some alternate dimension. The music becomes hallucinatory and flies over America in a fever dream:

Man built an empire out of ocean and earth
Man built the prisons of Joliet San Quentin Leavenworth
And man built a market for Muhammad Ali (oh oh oh oh)
Evel Knievel and the legacy of John Wayne Gacy

The title track "Mighty Joe Moon" leans into the nascent sub-genre of Americana, alluding to the green in the map and fishing for trout. "Demon Called Deception" may be the song that hit me the hardest, I knew something was wrong with me, but I didn't know what. My brain was telling me to skip classes to go for long walks into the woods, that my friends and classmates were against me, and these words hit like a brick to the face:

I'm in tight with a demon called Deception
It's alright he's a-treatin' me quite well
I'm in tight with a demon called Deception
He's right beside me when I fail

"Drag" teased Van Morrison in a hazy fog:

Sing me Morrison would ya kizza-my-eyes
Sing me Morrison would ya kizza-my-eyes
Singing it low
Singing it high
Would ya kizza-my-eyes...

My roommate during my first year at Oneonta was a huge Van Morrison fan and I have him to thank for my life long love of the man's music, another thing that connected me to this album. The album ends on a bloodied by unbowed note with "Side By Side" and "Rock of Ages" melding the various strains of American music into one cohesive desperate cry into the darkness. I couldn't listen to this album for years, connecting with with failure. After a couple of successes it was another massive personal failure that brought me back to the album, buying a cheap used CD copy, startled at the power and the majesty of the music and the fact that it still resonates so deeply with me. Grant Lee Buffalo made a few more records before breaking up around the turn of the millennium, and Phillips has had a solid solo career with about a dozen solo albums including this years' Widdershins. They are all good, but none pack the visceral punch that Mighty Joe Moon had which was at the right place at the right time even if that time was dark and lonely and frightening. Mighty Joe Moon -

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Woody Shaw - Tokyo '81 (Elemental Music, 2018)

Trumpeter Woody Shaw was still riding high after a stint as straw boss for Dexter Gordon's popular group and his own exceptional run of albums at Columbia Records when he landed in Tokyo for a performance with Stafford James on bass, Tony Reedus on drums, Mulgrew Miller on piano and Steve Turre on trombone and percussion. After a spoken introduction, the group opens with Shaw's "Rosewood," and the trombone and trumpet harmonize together with the rhythm team stating the brawny theme and staking out space for a stellar bowed bass solo. The horns trade excellent features before the group comes together for a tumultuous conclusion. There is a very long version on Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight" that doesn't waste a note, as Shaw plays an aching version of the melody framed by spare piano, building his solo in an open and patient manner. Turre's trombone statement is poised and thoughtful along with subtle brushed percussion, soon making way for Shaw to take an unaccompanied trumpet solo that is spellbinding in its beauty. "Apex" returns to the storming uptempo format, with the full band swinging right out of the gate and the strong rhythm section playing with slashing cymbals supporting scorching trumpet from the leader which gives the music a relentless feeling. The piano, bass and drums unit have a sparkling feature, cascading and tumbling forward leading to a quick and nimble full band outro. They return to ballad territory on "From Moment to Moment" where gentle trumpet and brushes add just the right touch to the music, leaving an opening for growling trombone and the music is accented with yearning and pathos. "Song of Songs" is a lengthy closer to the Shaw quintet's set, stretching out with lush piano and bowed bass creating interesting textures. Shaw enters, playing in a stoic fashion, nodding to some swirling trombone as he reaches out with a towering trumpet solo. The group roils beneath him, creating first rate post bop jazz, and Shaw climbs down from the mountaintop, handing the baton to Turre who seems stunned by his boss's solo, sounding tentative at first, but gradually regaining confidence because the rhythm section just won't quit and things pull together as Shaw returns for an epic full band closing. There is an extra track on this disc, "Sweet Love of Mine" by the Paris Reunion Band of which Shaw was a member. They play bright and punchy septet swing with some powerful trumpet moments for Shaw and an interesting section where he trades phrases with drummer Billy Brooks. Overall, this is an excellent and valuable release, the sound quality isn't exactly pristine, but the standard of the music overwhelms those concerns and makes this a must have for any Woody Shaw fan. Tokyo '81 -

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Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Mary Halvorson and Bill Frisell - The Maid With the Flaxen Hair (Tzadik, 2018)

This is a fascinating multi generational meeting of the minds featuring two of the most interesting guitarists in modern music, Mary Halvorson, whose music has ranged from free jazz to noise rock, and Bill Frisell whose Americana based music also incorporates experimental and progressive music. On this album they join forces to explore the music of guitarist Johnny Smith, an innovative jazz musician and a studio artist quite popular in the 1950's. They play ballads that are associated with Smith in the duet format, creating a melodic and accessible album that will hopefully be widely heard. Opening with one of Smith's most famous interpretations "Moonlight in Vermont," the attitude is spare and patient, with the guitarists playing the lilting melody and and then using that as a guidepost for their improvised section. The music has spiky sparks of life that bring it clearly into the modern world while hinting at the nostalgia of the past, as the duo uses their wit and energy to keep the music fresh. The title song "The Maid With the Flaxen Hair" stretches over eight minutes allowing for the guitarists to really stretch out and explore, shooting neon tones into the darkness as the notes are bent and echoed, sparkling in an abstract yes accessible manner and weaving the melody into a more expressive improvisation. "Scarlet Ribbons in Her Hair" is a shorter and more fluid performance, elegiac and somewhat melancholy and played with delicate grace, moving into "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" which makes use of the spaciousness of the setting to develop an atmosphere of subtle elegance and refined playing while maintaining the the quality of being spontaneous and sincere. Frisell has played "Shenandoah" regularly, and they are able to touch on the roots based approach that he takes while subtly tweaking it with sustained slightly altered guitar tones. The familiar standard "The Nearness of You" is given a much needed makeover with choppy and prickly sounding guitar fragmenting the melody into a kaleidoscope of color while maintaining the context of Smith's version. This leads to a spare and haunting version of "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair" with the notes hanging in the air with crystalline clarity, and the gradual weaving of the two distinctive guitar approaches in a form that allows them to flow naturally. Maid With The Flaxen Hair -

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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Rich Halley 3 - The Literature (Pine Eagle Records, 2018)

Veteran saxophonist Rich Halley pares his group down to the essentials on this vibrant trio recording that also features Clyde Reed on bass and Carson Halley on drums. The music is full of energy and enthusiasm, displaying a passionate intensity and deep commitment to forward thinking jazz. "Little Willie Leaps" opens the album in brisk fashion with burly tenor saxophone stretching out over a gruff melody in the company of rolling drums and taut bass. The music becomes raw, hinting at freedom with a tightly coiled saxophone solo and then turns inward with a strong bass solo and a reciting of the memorable theme. Thelonious Monk's "Misterioso" is taken at a respectful mid-tempo pace with the memorable theme stated, before the group makes use of the openness of Monk's music and the trio format to reconstruct the music according to their own whim. A raw and stark tenor saxophone solo rips across the soundscape, astride bass and drums which take their own moment to extrapolate upon the music, before the group reconvenes to peruse a fine collective improvisation that ripples with energy. "Chano Pozo" sets the drummer free for a deeply rhythmic and impressive opening solo, with bass and saxophone falling in line as the drums create an ever changing foundation, and the saxophone weaves in and around the percussion in a very immediate manner. The music recalls the deeply rhythmic trio music that Sonny Rollins made in the fifties and his trio encounters with Elvin Jones, Shelly Manne and more. There is a bright and bouncy theme to "Broad Way Blues," and tight bass and drum playing keeps the music moving briskly forward and their crisp interplay supports the burly and strapping saxophone feature. The trio fearlessly tackles Monk's notoriously labyrinthine composition "Brilliant Corners" barrelling through the melody and launching into a very exciting improvised section with the saxophone leaping around the skittering bass and drums. The band really locks in on a deep and intuitive level, making for a very impressive performance which also incorporates a deep and resonant bass solo. "Kingdom of Not" has a deep and danceable groove, with heartfelt and bluesy saxophone adding to the ebullient attitude with some extra hand clapping for good measure. The saxophone solo is deep and soulful, but played with enough grit to keep everybody on their toes. This was a very good album of modern jazz, with excellent musicianship with an interesting and wide ranging selection of compositions, well chosen selections from the masters. The Literature -

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Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Peter Brotzmann Octet - Machine Gun (Cien Fuegos, 2018)

One of the most famous recordings in all of free jazz, or all of jazz for that matter, was recorded for saxophonist Peter Brotzmann's own Bro label in 1968. From that small beginning, the legend grew with each re-issuing: first on FMP in 1971 and 1990, then Atavistic's Complete Machine Gun Sessions in 2007, and most recently on this excellent re-issue of the original album with the cover art and photographs faithfully restored, and the music pressed beautifully on thick vinyl. The album features a veritable who's who of European free jazz talent at the beginning of their careers with Brotzmann on tenor and baritone saxophones, Evan Parker on tenor saxophone, Willem Breuker on tenor saxophone, Peter Kowald and Buschi Niebergall on bass, Sven-Ake Johansson and Han Bennink on drums and Fred Van Hove on piano. The ferocity of the opening track, Brotzmann's own "Machine Gun," still kicks like a mule even after fifty years. The group takes the scalding spiritual new thing of American free jazz of John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and Pharoah Sanders and filters it though a European sensibility and achieving immortality with raw and rending gasps of saxophone over unfettered percussion and skittish piano that was the sound of creation in progress. Parker takes the first solo statement, already developing out of his original Coltrane influence and showing signs of the massively influential player he would become. The interlude for Van Hove to shine gives a brief breather but still is still intense as he moves relentlessly over the length and breadth of the keyboard, clearing a path for the back to back solos of Brueker and Brotzmann, that are just simply explosive. It's a wonder they don't spontaneous combust, given the heat that the band is producing and the levels and gradations of energy that is being expelled simply beggars belief. After seventeen minutes plus of the title track, the second side of the album begins with Van Hove's "Responsible (For Jan Van der Ven)" and while most people discussing this album talk about the explosive nature of the music, an rightly so, this track supplies the light that allows those towering sections to cast their shade. The sound is more open and rhythmic, with a thicket of dual bass and percussion bubbling constantly beneath the surface, and the saxophonists following the pianist into further uncharted territory where swathes of open space are met with splashes of color and vibrancy. The final track on the album is "Music for Han Bennink I" composed by Breuker, displaying how important the percussionists were to this album, and the impish nature of Benink's playing and personality keeps the music fresh and continually moving forward. The whole band drives the music forward in a constant incessant forward push driving to the spectacular finish of an album which would in time come to be regarded as a landmark in jazz history. Machine Gun -

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

David Murray - Ming's Samba (Portrait Records, 1988)

The great tenor saxophonist and bass clarinet player David Murray was riding high in the late 1980's recording albums for a number of labels including Black Saint, DIW and more. Some really great albums kind of got lost in the shuffle, and this is one of his best small group albums of the period. This set has a great ensemble featuring Ray Drummond on bass, Ed Blackwell on drums and John Hicks on piano and they revolve around a combination of compositions by Murray and Butch Morris. Dedications abound in this swinging and mainstream recording starting with the the Murray original title track "Ming's Samba" dedicated to his wife which is a nearly eleven minute joyride that allows the rhythm section considerable freedom to push and pull the rhythm, keeping the performance fresh even at this length and giving Murray the opportunity to take an expansive and powerful tenor saxophone solo swooping up into the higher registers and bellowing into the depths with a free and fierce spirit. They swing hard and true on "Remembering Fats (For Fat's Waller)" and original that taps into the rhythmic passion of Waller's music and the populism of the 1930's building to a bright and exciting performance. Hicks is particularly potent on this performance, he had the agility like the masters akin to Jaki Byard of playing in any form from stride to free and he makes the most of this opportunity with a brisk and sparkling solo. This is followed up with a couple of compositions by one of Murray's closest confidants the great composer, arranger and cornet player Butch Morris who was a linchpin of Murray's great octet and big band recordings of the period. The unique and influential nature of Morris's writing is on excellent display on the short track "Nowhere Ever After" and the longer "Spooing" that allows the group to enjoy the freedom of the angular theme and the allowances for some excellent solo statements. This highly recommended album concludes with a dedication to Murray's father, the beautiful "Walter's Waltz" where the leader turn's to bass clarinet, developing a deep and hollow sound that provides excellent texture for a deep and moving performance. Ming's Samba -

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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Binker and Moses - Alive in the East? (Gearbox, 2018)

Binker and Moses are one of the hottest groups on the burgeoning London jazz scene and this LP presents the principals, Binker Golding on tenor saxophone and Moses Boyd on drums in the company of some interesting guests like: Yussef Dayes on drums, Tori Handsley on harp, the legendary Evan Parker on tenor and soprano saxophones and Byron Wallen on trumpet. They work together very well, and the results are modern jazz that melds the mainstream and avant-garde into a very interesting tapestry. After the cool drum introduction, "The Birth Of Light," things truly kick in on "How Land Learnt to Be Still" where the choppy rhythm gives way to tenor and soprano saxophones dueling in the air. The crisp beat and shards of harp ground the performance, but the saxophones are willing to take flight and bring the improvisation to the next level. The different tones deliver fine grains of texture, stretching out and creating the longest track on the album and one of the most memorable, with a stellar tenor saxophone section weaves through the middle part of the track leading to a crisp trumpet interlude. "How Fire Was Made" incorporates abstract saxophone squiggles and an anxious beat into a fast paced and edgy repetitive section that gains energy by spinning madly before lifting off into a raw and impressive collective improvisation. There is a brief saxophone feature for circular breathing on "How The Air Learnt To Move" that is very impressive, gradually moving into "Children of the Ultra Blacks" a song which develops complex drumming with evocative harp chords and trumpet to create an admirable display of skill. The group creates a cohesive sound of their own, incorporating unexpected rhythms and stoic saxophone into the overall performance forming a storming full band improvised section that barrels relentlessly forward. "The Discovery of Human Flesh" opens gracefully with spare trumpet and percussion, before the music evolves to a textured weaving of saxophones and brass adding interesting hues and colors to the groups palette developing an Ayler-ish urgency that drives the music through the home stretch. Alive In The East -

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Downbeat Readers Poll 2018

Downbeat Magazine finally had the good sense to stop inviting me to take part in its Critics' Poll, so I'll make do with the proletariat, in the Readers' Poll. Voting is open to anyone, subscriber or not: here.

Hall of Fame - Sam Rivers
Jazz Artist - Henry Threadgill
Jazz Group - Cortex (Write-In)
Big Band - Rob Mazurek Exploding Star Orchestra
Jazz Album - Daniel Carter / William Parker / Matthew Shipp - Seraphic Light Live At Tufts University (Write-In)
Historical Album - Miles Davis & John Coltrane, The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6
Trumpet - Wadada Leo Smith
Trombone - Steve Swell
Alto Saxophone - Francois Carrier
Tenor Saxophone - Chris Potter
Baritone Saxophone - Mats Gustafsson
Clarinet - Anat Cohen
Flute - Nicole Mitchell
Piano - Matthew Shipp
Keyboard - Matt Mitchell (Write-In)
Organ - Greg Lewis
Guitar - Mary Halvorson
Bass - Michael Formanek
Electric Bass - Linda May Han Oh
Violin - Mark Feldman
Drums - Gard Nilssen (Write-In)
Vibes - Jason Adasiewicz
Percussion - Hamid Drake
Misc. Instrument - Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello)
Male Vocalist - n/a
Female Vocalist - Amirtha Kidambi (Write-In)
Composer: John Zorn
Arranger: n/a
Record Label - Clean Feed
Blues Artist/Group - Joe Louis Walker
Blues Album - Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite – No Mercy in This Land
Beyond Artist or Group - Richard Thompson
Beyond Album: Angelique Kidjo - Remain in Light

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Chad Taylor - Myths and Morals (Ears and Eyes, 2018)

Chad Taylor is one of the most well respected drummers on the modern music scene with credits far beyond the traditional jazz setting branching out into world music, rock and pop. This album was very interesting, it's ostensibly a solo percussion album, but the use of electronics and a delay pedal makes the overall soundcscape considerably wider, occasionally cinematic or overtly experimental in scope. This moves the music out of any definitive genre and into exciting ephemeral territory, with a diverse range of drum and percussion instruments brought together and melded with impressive technique hinting at many influences while taking a fresh and unique approach to the project as a whole. "Island of the Blessed" clocks in at over nine minutes and it is the most fiercely independent track on the album using pure noise to frame percussion patterns and motifs, taking on a progressive and psychedelic path while falling into the tropes of neither. The bonus cut at the end of the album, "Simcha," has Taylor joined by Elliot Bergman on electric kalimba and this excellent closer perhaps points the direction that Taylor will take next in his solo recordings, as the multi-rhythmic world music that the the two musicians combine to create on this brief snippet leaves the door open for an interesting collaboration. This album worked very well, Taylor is much more than a drummer, he is a musical conceptional artist that can build, adapt and process a wide range of rhythms in the search of interesting and invigorating music and in doing so create a compelling narrative all his own. Myths and Morals -

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Monday, July 16, 2018

Dexter Gordon - Tokyo 1975 (Elemental Music, 2018)

Recorded in Tokyo during October of 1975, during the great tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon's first ever appearance in Japan, this is a great live album where he has a talented band featuring Kenny Drew on piano, Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen on bass, and Albert "Tootie" Heath on drums. They open with "Fried Bananas" which is an upbeat and swinging tune that has bright rhythmic accompaniment to Gordon's strong and vibrant saxophone. This elastic sounding bass powers the improvisation, giving the leader plenty of room to stretch out and treat the crowd to a very impressive solo, playing in a fast paced and exciting manner. Gordon lays out and the rhythm section takes over, demonstrating sparkling interplay until he re-enters, trading witty passages with Heath in the end. "Days of Wine and Roses" is taken at a medium tempo with Gordon's steely toned tenor saxophone cutting through the rhythm trio, who give him plenty of room to dig in and really blow. The piano, bass and drums unit are featured, leading into an excellent bass solo and strong full band finish. "Misty" is a well known standard, and this ballad is tailor made for Gordon's gorgeous approach to songs with a slower tempo. He plays with patience and great lyricism, bathing the band and audience with his luxuriant sound. The sound opens up for a trio interlude led by lush and romantic piano, before Gordon returns to corral everyone, closing the performance with a stoically beautiful finishing statement. He shows no ill effects of travel on the riotous "Jelly, Jelly, Jelly" as he sings the lyrics amidst the audience's enthusiastic hand claps, and taking the populist approach with a fresh as paint saxophone solo, bringing the fun of jazz to all assembled, even quoting Nat Adderley's "Work Song" and hamming it up in the best way possible by scatting the blues. If this seems a little frivolous (it's not) the following track is Gordon at his most powerful, deconstructing Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm a Ning" over the course of fourteen minutes. He carves up the tricky theme with scientific precision, pushing hard through a complicated improvisation and producing a thrilling solo statement, relentlessly pouring out emotionally charged waves of sound. He is deeply engaged with Heath on this performance, and the two veterans push and pull at the fabric of the song, trading quick and inventive bursts to bring the amazing performance home safely. After that bracing jolt, Gordon ends the concert on a magnanimous note, with the standard "Old Folks" where he recites the lyrics to the crowd and then takes a beautifully patient and sultry solo supported by ripples of piano and subtle bass and drums. His melodic and thoughtful playing on this track encapsulates this excellent album, as well as his titanic stature within the history of jazz. Tokyo 1975 -

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Rodrigo Amado - A History of Nothing (Trost Records, 2018)

This excellent album of free thinking jazz was recorded in Lisbon during March of 2017 featuring leader Rodrigo Amado on tenor saxophone, Joe McPhee on alto saxophone and pocket trumpet, Kent Kessler on bass and Chris Corsano on drums. Mixing interesting patterns with powerful free improvisation, the music is deep and invigorating. Beginning with the track "Legacies" the music opens with horns harmonizing with bowed bass in a quiet and texture based manner. Their combined sounds resonate in open space, slicing through the encroaching silence as rolling percussion adds depth and breadth to the performance, leading all instruments to coalesce in a delicate formation. Horns flutter with percussion on the title track "A History of Nothing" as the bass swells forth to carry the band into its improvisation. They build a fast paced and choppy motif, framing their excursion into the unknown with a raw tenor saxophone that sweeps the slate clean, making way for McPhee's soprano saxophone. He plays with great vigor, ratcheting up the pace even further, and his interplay with Corsano's drumming is simply stellar. Amado reenters the fray and the band embarks on a very impressive collective improvisation that carries them through to the conclusion. "Theory of Mind II (For Joe)" has bass and percussion probing the soundscape and laying foundation stones for the saxophone glide in upon, carving a space of its own amidst the rhythm of sawing bowed bass and splashing cymbals. Tenor saxophone joins in adding rough notes and runs to the proceedings, along with the avalanche of brass, bass and drums which evolves into an exciting, unfettered and fearless improvisation. There is a very interesting opening to "Wild Flowers" with quick flurries of brass, drifting in space and time with feathered percussion making for a fast and light performance, that gradually turns to plucked bass and sharp, angular soprano saxophone. The music swirls and gains speed in a colorful manner with the saxophones differing in light and shade, responding to one another and to the powerful rhythmic notions of the bass and drums. The excitement the band achieves is palpable, with the full group forming a sound that has a true physical presence which brings the listener into direct and instant involvement with the music, giving rise to a sense of urgency and excitement. Finally, "The Hidden Desert" follows the mysterious sounding bass and drums in developing a unique pattern that is well attuned to long tones of saxophone which soar overhead. Spare tones and beats are held in the open air, and time seems to slow down and stretch across the surface of the band's improvisation. Moody tones of saxophone and brushed percussion emerge, leading to a spare and patient resolution. This was an excellent album and it is evident that the four musicians have deep empathy for the music and one another. To play in a free fashion as they do requires a great amount of confidence and trust and that is rewarded with consistently engaging results. A History Of Nothing -

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

John Zorn - In a Convex Mirror (Tzadik Records, 2018)

Most of John Zorn's output these days comes as a composer or facilitator, so it is always exciting to hear him pick up his alto saxophone and blow in an unfettered and free environment. His playing has lost nothing of the bracing power that has been a guiding force in his music, but wisdom and experience have taught him to temper the howls of raw emotion with moments of grace and humility. He also adds some fender rhodes electric piano textures to the album which finds him in excellent company with Ikue Mori on electronics and Ches Smith on Haitian tanbou, bells and cymbals. The first track is an exploratory eighteen minute improvisation called "Veve," that opens with meditative percussion and electronic soundscapes providing further textures to frame Zorn's unique and biting saxophone tone. He rips out peals of raw and rending sound that fit in well with the unusual percussive accompaniment and the unpredictable electronic flourishes. Their collective improvisation is free and unfettered with Zorn's nimble saxophone at the center of the maelstrom punctuating his longer runs with sharp squeals and bellows. The tanbou produces an natural, elastic sound that works well in this configuration, adding an ever shifting rhythmic center for the saxophone and electronics to orbit. Zorn is just ripping through his solos with great gusto, and the sound is harsh and mesmerizing, primal, yet fully controlled. Mori is the wild card in this setting, adding swoops and swirls of sound that amplify and uplift the improvisational setting, leading to a viscerally satisfying trio sound that achieves a unique identity. "Through a Glass, Darkly" moves in a more atmospheric direction, with electric piano chords setting the tone, ringing out in space with accents of gentle percussion. When Zorn moves to saxophone it is in a more reflective and melancholy vein, and his playing is melodic and quite beautiful. The music is moody and cinematic, analogous to a late night film noir, as the music develops a haunted elegiac tone, with restrained sadness at its core.  Smith's rhythmically charged percussion turns ever faster, against the languid saxophone and electronic sounds creating a rich ebb and flow between the music, providing a catalyst for further exploration. Zorn's saxophone returns to it's piercing, laserlike quality on "Le Tourbillon" in conjunction with insistent percussion that develops a hypnotic rhythm, perfectly suited for Zorn's long foghorn like blasts of sound and fast flutters of notes. The incantation like nature of the performance is furthered by the manner in which Mori can produce sounds from her instruments, adding just the right touch to this bubbling caldron of sound. This group creates an unusual amalgam of free jazz, experiential electronica and world rhythms that is very successful. Each of the musicians has a relentlessly inquisitive nature, and by combining their efforts they create riveting and very successful results. In A Convex Mirror -

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Monday, July 09, 2018

Barker Trio - Avert Your I (Astral Spirits, 2018)

The Barker Trio is a very powerful free jazz band consisting of Michael Foster on tenor and soprano saxophones and electronics, Tim Dahl on electric bass and Andrew Barker on drums, synthesizer and percussion. They create a truly mighty sound that combines fearless improvisation with elements of post rock to create an interesting and compelling mixture beginning with the massive sixteen and a half minute title track "Avert Your I" which develops from fast and raw saxophone, pummeling drumming, building a hell for leather attack. The dynamism of the band allows the intensity of the music to ebb and flow, creating space and just as quickly filling it up with flutters of saxophone and bass. Drums provide further spark as the whole band is enveloped in a crackling collective improvisation that doesn't let up. "Ageist" has a raw and open ended feel to it, with long snarling smears of saxophone and slashing drums developing a harrowing interplay that lays waste to all standing before it. Electric strings lash out with bolts of power, as the drums use a violent sweeping movement leading to a tenacious full band improvisation that is over the top in its excitement. Shaken percussion adds a different texture to "Spatial Needs," soon joined by fluttering saxophone, and raw guttural sounds that carry over into "Enthusiasm Gap" which features snarling bass guitar shooting across the soundscape in an abrasive and loose manner. This leads to a section of pure noise, pounding heavily and insistently as if they are trying to make the harshest elements of The Velvet Underground's "European Son" come alive in an improvised context. The saxophone eventually breaks loose to fly with powerful drums to a blistering and enthusiastic conclusion. "Outer Body Image" has gales of drums and saxophone developing a free and open sensibility with space between the instruments. The saxophone is launched into the air with rattling drums in support and bass joining for a bellowing trio section that exudes great enthusiasm and eagerness. Finally, "Circus Bender" introduces a complex rhythm, with gritty saxophone providing an angular momentum for the track, with ripe squeaks punctuating the musical sentences. Sparks of electronics and towering saxophone swirls with slashing drums put an exclamation point on an exciting and well played album. Avert Your I - Bandcamp

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Saturday, July 07, 2018

Michael Musillami Trio + 2 - Life Anthem (Playscape, 2018)

Guitarist Michael Musillami survived a serious health crisis recently, and that experience has informed his most recent work, where he adds two talented guests to his already potent and road tested trio. He writes honest and compelling music and the act of composing and improvising seems to be a healing one, using the skills he's developed over the course of decades as a jazz musician to adapt to his changing circumstances. He's gathered a cracking band featuring his regular trio mates Joe Fonda on bass and George Schuller on drums, while adding Kirk Knuffke on cornet and Jason Robinson on tenor and soprano saxophone and alto flute. "MRI Countdown" is a crisp and urgent performance, with riffing horns and harmonizing guitar setting the pace with a complex melody, and the band is more than up to the task with excellent interplay. The leader solos in opposition to the horns, keeping the momentum of the piece going before breaking free to play with thick bass and subtle percussion. His solo is knotty and complicated, and the band supports him fully, especially through an energetic saxophone counter solo which runs throughout this excellent track. Paying tribute to his physician, "Dr. Mohamad Khaled, Neurosurgeon" has a strong and vital approach, with brisk percussion and tenor saxophone setting a compelling improvised opening that lays the groundwork for the entry of the remainder of the band. Knuffke's cornet is well suited for this format and his solo over bass and drums is fresh and invigorating. The music alternates between lengthy exploratory performances like "Visions" where the music gradually evolves through several sections of composed and improvised areas, coming together for an excellent collective improvisation that shows the strength and experience of the band. There are also shorter pieces like the sparkling "Think of Something Beautiful" and the closing "Life Anthem (Full Ensemble) which work well as short concentrated bursts of sound. Michael Musillami's music is a treasure, and we are fortunate that he came through his recent crisis unscathed. This music for his trio plus two is very well composed and arranged, allowing a solid framework for the music while encouraging adventurous ensemble playing and soloing. Life Anthem -

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Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Dennis Coffey - One Night At Morey’s 1968 (Omnivore Recordings, 2018)

Guitarist Dennis Coffey was a very busy session musician during the late 1960's but he still took time out to perform in an improvised jam session at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge in Detroit with organist Lyman Woodard and drummer Melvin Davis. They actually performed under Woodard's name, but the guitarist gets the top billing here as he did on last years fine release Hot Coffey In The D. This is an intimate club performance, with the groove front and center, beginning with "I'm a Midnight Mover" which has a very crisp drumbeat in addition to swelling Hammond B3 organ and shards of choppy electric guitar. Their version of The Beatles "Eleanor Rigby" is a highlight of the album, as they jump right into their improvisation with the melody not surfacing until three minutes into the performance. The trio takes this well known composition into interesting and unexpected territory, carrying on their improvisation for over thirteen minutes. The Meters' "Cissy Strut" is the perfect kind of track for musicians associated with The Funk Brothers, and they take the New Orleans beat in stride, creating a solid rhythmic foundation and leaving plenty of room for Coffey to stretch out with some snarling, gnarly guitar lines. "Burning Spear" finds them branching out to the thirteen minute mark again, allowing the alluring and insistent organ groove to carry the music along in a fluid fashion, with Coffey popping up to spray sharp bursts of hot guitar notes at anything in their path. Effects laden and over driven guitar marks "It's Your Thing/Union Station" with a raucous and dirty sensation that meets wailing organ and a strong beat to excellent effect, getting even wilder on the appropriately titled "Mindbender" where showers of psychedelic organ take the music on a shape-shifting journey, soon matched by Coffey's blues based electric guitar solo, which rocks ferociously. The group wraps up this fine album with a surprise, a quick run through of the Charlie Parker bebop classic "Billie's Bounce" proving their jazz chops in grand fashion with an insightful Jimmy Smith / Grant Green type of groove. One Night At Moreys 1968 -

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Friday, June 29, 2018

John Coltrane - Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (Impulse, 2018)

The surprise release of a hitherto unknown session by the heroic saxophonist and composer John Coltrane and his "classic quartet" of McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones is a cause for celebration and provides a fascinating glimpse into his working methods and techniques used in the studio. Recorded in March of 1963, this album shows the quartet playing a wide range of original material, some of which is so fresh that some of the tracks don't have names, just index numbers, assigned on the fly by the engineer. There are no less than four takes of the famous original "Impressions," all of which are quite short in the three to four minute range as they look for the perfect way to nail down the theme. Dark and husky tenor saxophone looks forward to the Crescent LP on standard "Nature Boy" is with a brief performance, one that would come into full bloom a few years later with a scalding performance anchoring the John Coltrane Quartet Plays LP. "Untitled Original 11383 (Take 1)" opens this collection and it is a bracing demonstration of the band's power. With a very impressive bowed bass solo anchoring the performance, Jones dances on cymbals and Coltrane's soprano saxophone pierces the air amidst Tyner's persistent comping. There is a multi-layered rhythmic balance to "Untitled Original 11386 (Take 1)" with powerfully swinging drums along with stoic bass and piano providing a firm foundation for a lengthy and exciting soprano saxophone solo. Jones in particular is a marvel, playing with supreme confidence and creating an ever changing dynamic that suits the piece perfectly. Tyner's solo is fleet fingered, dancing around the upper edge of the keyboard while rooting his feature in stabbing chords, before laying out for an insightful bass and drums duet. Coltrane moves to tenor saxophone for "Vilia (Take 3)" a brightly swinging romp that has a memorable and accessible melody, and the quartet performs with the grace of a high performance sports car. Tyner is well suited to this more traditional jazz and he leads the bass and drums in a sparkling section before Coltrane returns for a confident concluding statement. "Slow Blues" is the longest track on the album, an exploratory piece where Coltrane in tenor saxophone can cast out for ideas, using the familiar form of the blues as a foundation for his seeking. He plays with a steely presence, using a deep dark tone to unwrap his solo over basic bass and drums accompaniment. Tyner steps aside for much of the track, but takes a thoughtful probing solo of his own when the leader drops out, bumping up the tempo and adding a spring to his step. Coltrane keps the faster pace when he returns, blowing gales of tenor saxophone over some engaging accompaniment. Soon to be famous for it's live performances, there are two versions of "One Up, One Down" which have explosive quartet interplay right from the jump, with expansive piano chords, deft cymbal play and withering tenor saxophone. Jones is a force of nature, trading ideas with Coltrane and anchoring a sparkling Tyner solo. This album comes from reference tapes kept by the family of Coltrane's first wife, Naima, and the remastering quality is excellent allowing the music to be heard clearly and transparently. The music on this album is worthy of the hype surrounding it, as it is played with passion and dignity, providing another mile-marker in John Coltrane's relentless quest. This is a portrait of a man at work, and we are all richer for it's discovery. Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album -

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Monday, June 25, 2018

Peter Brotzmann and Fred Lonberg-Holm - Ouroboros (Monofonus Press/Astral Spirits, 2018)

Multi-reedist Peter Brotzmann and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm (who also adds subtle electronics) combine for a very exciting and challenging album of free improvisation which was recorded at Loft Köln in January of 2011. The scouring and rending sound of Brotzmann’s saxophone and clarinet meets the amplified cello in open space, creating soundscapes that work very well together and leave an indelible imprint in the listener’s mind. The relatively short opening track “The Circle” sets the tone of the album with sharp bursts of raw bowing, which are effective in laying a foundation for Brotzmann to enter on tenor saxophone with prescient timing. The raw and rending sound of the saxophone matches Lonberg-Holm’s scouring strings and creates a powerhouse atmosphere. This molten duo improvisation continues on “The Figure Eight,” moving to taut plucked cello and clarinet, they develop a steely night tinged feel, then evolve to crisp bowing and long tones of clarinet working in tandem. Brotzmann erupts with gouts of liquefied sound, as the improvisation spools outward, and then the voltage continues to wax and wane throughout the performance, creating a dynamic tension the drives the music forward. “The Spiral” is the centerpiece of the album, sixteen minutes in length and bristling with raw unfettered improvisation. Brotzmann’s saxophone cuts like a blade on the cello swirls like a whirling dervish, developing excellent chemistry while leading to further intriguing music that sounds great. The textures that are called forth allow the music to avoid becoming stale, charging up the voltage, and then laying out individual solo areas of note. The final track is a brief collective improvisation called “The Fusion of Opposites” with Brotzmann’s potent saxophone meeting the cello squirming and writhing and shooting out in dark and skittering patterns. This was an exciting and well played album by two veteran musicians with broad horizons and fearsome technique. The music that pours from the fingers is an ecstatic that hints at brave deeds past and future. Ouroboros -

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Saturday, June 23, 2018

McCoy Tyner - Sama Layuca (Milestone/OJC, 1974)

This is a somewhat overlooked but excellent album my pianist McCoy Tyner with John Stubblefield on oboe and flute, Gary Bartz on alto saxophone, Azar Lawrence on tenor and soprano saxophone, Bobby Hutcherson on vibes and marimba, Buster Williams on bass, Billy Hart on drums and Guilherme Franco and James Mtume on percussion. "Sama Layuca" open the album in an uptempo fashion with wonderfully rumbling percussion and piano and thick throbbing bass, featuring ripe solos for piano and soprano saxophone and stellar vibes playing. A lush solo piano introduction opens "Above the Rainbow" in a soulful fashion, and is soon joined beautiful joined by subtle vibes in an duet that has a complex yet very accessible rhythm.  "La Cubaña" opens with a bass solo, sounding powerful and dexterous, clearing a path for the rest of band to crash in, playing at as fast tempo with alto saxophone soaring over top with a strong solo pushed by volcanic percussion. The leader's piano breaks out in a white hot solo framed by drums and percussion and supported by elastic bass playing. Marimba solo sounds so cool amidst bass and cascading percussion, creating a forthright and exciting rhythm team. Spare piano and emotionally aching soprano saxophone echoing with spare bass and drums on the ballad "Desert Cry," organically developing music that sounds mysterious and exotic and leads the group into "Paradox," concluding the album with a massive sixteen minute slab of thrilling music that has layers of percussion and mallets, taking off with horns and a bracing piano send off. There is a tenor saxophone solo that builds to a strong cruising altitude over bubbling and simmering rhythmic support. Rippling piano with the rhythm section builds to blinding speed, creating an intense atmosphere and the marimba adds an interesting texture to the music contributing a fast solo that sits well with the drums, percussion and bounding bass pulling together a very exciting collective improv that the brash horns put into orbit, including another vital tenor solo and a powerful full band finale. Sama Layuca -

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Sunday, June 17, 2018

Thumbscrew - Theirs (Cuneiform, 2018)

This is the second album released this spring by the excellent modern jazz trio Thumbscrew. The band is made up of Tomas Fujiwara on drums, Mary Halvorson on electric guitar and Michael Formanek on acoustic bass, and this is a collection that covers the works of other composers while the other album Ours, consisted of original works. They begin the album with the song “Stablemates” by Benny Golson, nodding to the funky hard bop roots of the original version, while adding sky accents of soaring guitar to the crisp and gently grooving rhythm. “Benzihno” by Brazilian composer Jacob Do Bandolim is a sharper edged uptempo performance, where the band is able to take the source material and make their own statement, molding it like clay into a powerful collective improvisation. Herbie Nichols was sadly ignored during his lifetime, but generations of jazz musicians have been enthralled by his his distinctive compositions and piano playing. The band takes his “House Party Starting” to new heights with a lengthy exploration of the song and its possibilities, loosening the strings that tie it to the jazz orthodoxy and building a free ranging improvisation, one that allows there to be solos and mighty trio improvisation complete with colorful guitar playing, firm bass playing and brisk and decisive drumming. Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks" is a fine feature for guitarist Mary Halvorson, and she makes the most of it by demonstrating her unique approach to the instrument, one that is never flashy, yet uses notes and chords in a way that is unexpected, throwing off sparks while hewing to the underlying rhythmic construct of the performance. The choice of Wayne Shorter's composition "Dance Cadaverous" is an inspired one, since the mysterious, open ended nature of Shorter's writing suits the band very well. Without being deliberately enigmatic, the music stays fluid and conforms no fixed shape, bending to external ideas that the band members bring to the performance. Halvorson's guitar sneaks through the undergrowth and then emits qualls of neon tinted notes in the midst of tumbling percussion and taut bass playing. "Weer is een dag voorbij" by Misha Mengelberg is a perfect closer for this album, and they nod to the composer's impish sense of humor with a enlivening and decisive performance that is especially pleasing and attractive in the manner of playing that focuses on band unity and togetherness. The music of Thumbscrew is powerful and particularly interesting, as they have delineated their own personal sound, one that can approach an album of covers while maintaining their identity and delivering a remarkable performance. Theirs -

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Thumbscrew - Ours (Cuneiform, 2018)

This is a double dose of good news with the excellent trio Thumbscrew consisting of Tomas Fujiwara on drums, Mary Halvorson on electric guitar and Michael Formanek on acoustic bass reconvening for two albums on the great Cuneiform Records imprint which nearly shut down earlier this year do to financial constraints. This album focuses on the group's original compositions, beginning with "Snarling Joys," a track that opens with some taut bass playing and layered percussion, with subtle guitar playing adding color to the mix. There is a nimble melody that the musicians develop with the resulting improvisation becoming quite intricate, as the guitar adds slurred accents to the sharp picking and the bass and drums create a very interesting rhythmic counterweight. Their collective improvisation drops into a spacious bass solo with quiet cymbal tapping, allowing the music to be characterized by constant change and progress. The fascinatingly titled "Cruel Heartless Bastards" has an ominous rhythmic approach of lumbering bass and drums that occasionally sprint ahead, giving the music a slightly off kilter feel. When the guitar comes in, this sensibility of fractured music that is continuously changing shape is reinforced, with the music becoming more powerful after the halfway point of the performance as shimmering otherworldly sounding guitar sounds meld with shape shifting percussion and agile bass playing to excellent effect. Their trio improvisation is very impressive and melds elements of rock and electronic music into the improvised jazz context. "One Day" opens with spare and probing guitar work, in an unaccompanied solo that sets a mysterious vibe as the quiet bass and drums glide in. Their music never resolves like you think it might, keeping the listener on their toes with brushed percussion and thick bass playing and the patience and trust that the musicians have for one another, allowing the music to slowly and gradually evolve without rushing or forcing anything. The pace of the performance to gradually increases in volume and tempo as the music evolves in an organic manner to a fine conclusion. There is a gentler sensibility to "Words That Rhyme With Spangle" with a floating aspect to the music that develops into an anchoring beat, allowing the bass and guitar to range free and allow the music to shine with a soft tremulous light, with glints of electric guitar like shooting stars across the music's field of view. The band developed most of this music during a residency in Pittsburgh, which allowed them room to focus on composition and interpretation, with the payoff being the production of excellent and unique music. Ours -

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Angles 3 - Parede (Clean Feed, 2018)

Angles 3 is the stripped down trio version of the great medium sized modern jazz bands Angles 8 and Angles 9 who have put out some of the best progressive jazz of the past several years. This version of the group consists of Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass, Kjell Nordeson on drums and percussion and Martin Kuchen on tenor and soprano saxophone. It adds up to a stellar album that was recorded live in Parede, Portugal during November of 2016. They distill the essence of their music from American free jazz and European free improvisation, leveraging ferocious playing with snatches of bop like themes delivered with passion and grace. "Equity and Death (Mothers, Fathers, Where Are Ye)" opens the album with bass and drums developing a foundational beat, with the saxophone probing at the edges as the group gathers strength and inertia. The trio builds to an exciting and scouring brand of free improvisation, with dynamic shifts and crushing cymbal beats. This leads the band back to cruising speed, like a fine motor building velocity through gear shifts. The raw and rending tenor saxophone that Kuchen achieves is arresting and adds a deeply compelling feeling to the band's performance. "Satan in Plain Clothes" has a Håker Flaten solo bass opening that is patient and well articulated, with the tenor saxophone and drums diving in, keeping things fresh, as the rhythm section and ripe saxophone develop a powerful collective improvisation. They build from a medium tempo to a loud roar, with yelps of encouragement to take things ever higher. The rolling drums and imperturbable bass bring the noise as the saxophonist briefly lays out before returning for a mighty conclusion. The epic near twenty-three minute track "Francisco / By Way of Deception" has thick waves of high intensity trio improvisation pushing forth, being totally in the moment, as Kuchen switches to soprano saxophone changing the nature of the improvisation as he gains a personal pinched sound for an unaccompanied solo section followed by a grand exploration of space and time by the full trio. This is very exciting as the soprano saxophone carves a narrow twisting path through the broad bass and drums. The rhythm section pummels mercilessly in a thrilling manner before dropping into a towering trio conclusion. The concluding track is "Don't Ruin Me / Love Flee Thy House (In Breslau)" which is a sprawling seventeen minute masterwork where the low and subtly playing bass and drums catch fire and begin to burn with rough hewn saxophone adding fuel to the fire. They build a dynamic loud / soft way of playing that is very effective in ramping up the tension, leading to another very effective bass solo, and stick the landing with a high powered trio improvisation proving a vehement conclusion to this wonderful live album. Parede -

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